29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 / Psalm 96/1Thess 5:1-5/ Matthew 22:15-21
Theme: You bear the imprint of God's image
In five weeks time, mother Church will celebrate the universal Kingship of Jesus Christ popularly called the Feast of Christ the King. This feast brings to an end the Church’s Liturgical Year. The Readings of the last three Sundays reminded us of the Parousia (the second coming of Christ). It urged us to respond to God’s invitation to the heavenly banquet, a rejection of which is a total rejection of God and the beatific vision.
In the First Reading, God proves Himself faithful to the house of Israel to the extent that even when he did not find a worthy leader among His chosen people to rescue them from their enemies, He finds a pagan King, Cyrus to bring them out of exile. The Prophet says, “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me…” (Isaiah 45:4-5).
Every leader that God chooses, He anoints. Thus, Cyrus was anointed. Isaiah says, “ Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him and the gates shall not be closed” ( Isaiah 45:1). We are presented with a prototype of an anointed servant. This brings to sharp focus the fact that we can only be sent on mission when we are called and anointed.
Indeed, Cyrus did not know God but God used him to accomplish great things. What about us who know God? He will do greater things for us. Do you know God?
In today's Gospel (Matthew 22:15), the Pharisees try once again to entrap Jesus in His speech. They realize that they are being portrayed by Jesus as having refused an invitation to conversion of heart (last Sunday's banquet story 22:1-14). Therefore they begin to plot against Jesus by launching an attack. They begin their questioning by flattering Jesus, attempting to take Him off guard. A Pharisee compliments Jesus for being honest, teaching the way of God authentically, and taking no account of any person's status or opinion.
The rejection of the Israelites meant that God is capable of raising leaders in every age and time. Jesus becomes that perfect revealer of God who wields authority for the common good, namely that He paid the debt that He did not owe. Indeed, Jesus’ authority was a servant authority or leadership. Thus, as we anticipate the Feast of Christ the King, Mother Church presents to us the servant Kingship of Jesus as a model for all authority figures.
The Kingship that Jesus brings is not one to cause confusion and riot but of peace. By Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees and the Herodians that we should give what belong to Caesar to Caesar and what belong to God to God, he called on all Christians to respect constituted authority for the common good. Indeed, respect for constituted authority is a conditio sine qua non for an acceptance of Jesus’ Kingship.
Two images are before us: that of Caesar and that of God. To the first image, Jesus asks a simple question: "Whose picture is on the coin?" And the answer is simple, "Caesar." Therefore, give to Caesar what belongs to him, that is the part of your possession that belongs to him. But Jesus also has a second, penetrating question: Whose image and blessing is on every human being? And the answer is simple, "God's." Therefore, give to God what belongs to him, that is your entire being, whole and undivided.
From whom do we receive the blessings of life and to whom do we owe thanksgiving and allegiance? Is it God? Is service to God and to Caesar compatible? Or are they competing loyalties that carry with them divergent senses of blessing? The Lord commands not only to give to God what is God's (that is, everything), but also to give to Caesar what is Caesar's, that is to say, to live completely the requirements of justice and peace in social relationships, and to work for the common good.
Indeed, at the time that this incident took place, the Jews were under Roman rule and they might have been having problem paying taxes to Caesar. They were, therefore, pre-occupied with overthrowing the Roman regime. Thus, they were anticipating a Messiah who will come and topple the Roman authority. But they found the opposite. They were so pre-occupied with toppling the Roman regime that they were ready to kill even when their weaknesses were laid bare to them by Jesus.
Today, like the Jewish authorities, we have rejected God’s offer of salvation which He has accomplished in Jesus Christ. We will not plot to kill Jesus but we have rejected God because of our apathy to the things of God.
If the image of Caesar was stamped on Roman coins that were to be rendered to him, the human heart bears the imprint of the Creator, the one Lord of our life. He has marked us for his own and sent us on mission to the world. Do our human projects make us better prophets, servants and agents of the Kingdom of Jesus?
Let us never be ashamed of working publicly for Jesus' kingdom, and telling people about Him. He alone guarantees us authentic joy and deep hope, for all the people in our time." His kingdom will have no end.
It is only those who bear the imprint of God who will be rewarded with salvation. Paul, in the Second Reading, used this image to warn believers not to be caught napping. Since we do not know when the Lord will return for His people, we must live in constant attitude of watching and waiting, while we are busy working and witnessing.
Paul emphasises that as believers, we know that the Lord is surely coming while unbelievers are living in constant ignorance of God’s plan. Are you a believer, yet living in constant ignorance of God’s plan? Then you are sure that that day will catch you like a thief.
In conclusion, let us pray this week for the courage and wisdom to give simple and truthful answers when we find ourselves in ambiguous and compromising situations. We are marked and blessed with God's image. Let us never forget to whom we really belong, and why we really do the things we do. We are not called for ourselves, but we are summoned by the Lord and sent to the world, to proclaim His name and His saving works. It is a daunting mission. But it is also a cause for rejoicing.